Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How Many Pot Smoking Americans Would It Take To Destroy Society?

If too many of our fellow citizens suddenly decide to get high regularly, America will be less “alert” in a dangerous world, says Jerry Brown.

So asks the governor of California. Via RealClearPolitics:

DAVID GREGORY: 40 years ago, we weren’t talking about legalizing marijuana in states either. Is that a good or a bad idea for California?

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D-CA): Well, we have medical marijuana, which gets very close to what they have in Colorado and Washington. I’d really like those two states to show us how it’s going to work. The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay, but there is a tendency to go to extremes, and all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? World’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we needed to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the pot heads might be able to put together.

If too many of our fellow citizens suddenly decide to get high regularly, America will be less “alert” in a dangerous world. Solid point. Then again, since we’re on the topic of California, it should be noted that a few sober politicians can do more harm to a state than millions of stoned Americans.

But Brown is worried. And his argument is awful. For starters, the governor of America’s largest state – a state where government is often moral authority – bestows pot with plenty of “legitimacy” when he tells everyone that bong hits are fine in moderation. What worries him is that legality will mean too many tokes by too many people. So I wonder: How many smoking pot Americans would it take to undermine society? 20 percent? 40 percent? Higher?

How many Americans are smoking now? NORML claims 14 million Americans are regular smokers. CDC says that’s a sizable market. Then again, 14 million people do a lot of crazy things. With the legalization movement gaining ground that number is going to rise – but considering how readily pot has been available to Americans, it’s probably not going to rise by as much as drug warriors fear. Surely not enough to throw the entire nation off its A-game.

Will the “legitimacy” of legalization change how young people view pot? A recent federal report claimed that the percentage of high school students who smoke pot is rising (very slowly), but alcohol and other narcotics are on the decline. Is this a good thing? The creepy-sounding Monitoring the Future found that 12 percent of eighth graders and 36 percent of high school seniors claim to have smoked pot in 2013. Around 60 percent of high school seniors don’t believe marijuana is harmful.

Usage had, supposedly, been dropping slightly for years before 2013. It’s impossible to tell exactly how many Americans are regular pot smokers, but Gallup says that over the last 30 years the percentage of marijuana smokers in America has remained constant. Thirty-eight percent of Americans admit to trying marijuana in 2013, compared to 34 percent in 1999 and 33 percent in 1985.


So, for the past several decades, large numbers of Americans tried marijuana – but a similar number of Americans make the same consumer choice on a regular basis. Drugs are rampantly available in college campuses and easily accessible everywhere else. Only 15 percent of adults have ever tried cocaine and 2 percent have tried heroin. People experiment, and kids might give it a shot, but most adults act like adults and favor the far more beneficial, honorable and decent choice: alcohol.

If the prospect of mass proliferation is Brown’s concern, he doesn’t have a a lot to worry about. How many pot smoking Americans would it take to destroy society? We’re never going to find out.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the forthcoming The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments